Sunday, February 11, 2007


No one expects their children to die before them, no one deserves that. Jeff and Lyn lost their beautiful sixteen year old daughter to leukaemia and that one calamitous event has shaped the rest of their lives. Jeff, grey and rugged, once handsome, dangerous and even still a little wild, but frayed now, life having done its’ work with relish it seems. An East End boy working on ‘the print’ in Fleet Street when the national press was gathered there like one enormous family feeding from the same soup of workers, machinery and sensational headlines. He regularly revisits, taking us there with humorous and skilfully worked tales of villains, dark corners and dodgy deals where pranksters, rogues and small time villains hatched their plans and joked their way through the long hours of the night and into the next morning. ‘Pinewwood’ people of the sixties, larger than life characters in black and white, vivid, alive and beautifully drawn, set against a backdrop of whirring print machines, dangerous block setting, the intoxicating smell of ink and print runs that might last twenty four hours or more covered by the same men on the same shift. It was hard but the rewards were great, Jeff being by all accounts quite a wealthy young man when he saved his beautiful young bride from the miserable abuses of a drunken father; stepping in when others had passed by, knocking him out and in true cave man fashion walking away with the spoils of his labour. That was it. Lyn lived with him now. No ifs, no buts, no lawsuits, charges of assault, abduction, claims or counter claims. There had been a problem and now it had been sorted, the business had been done and Jeff began a life of care. He had it all now; large house, swimming pool, new Saab sports car on the drive, beautiful wife and mother to their two young children Martin and Julie.
So why? Why? Why give people all of this happiness, why build up hope, expectations and desires only to destroy and take away in the cruellest way imaginable? I don’t think that Jeff and Lyn believe in God. I don’t know if they did before Julie died but any faith repaid with such crushing injury is difficult to comprehend. Why would any higher power feel the need to induce such suffering, overwhelming His children with a torment beyond all others? We struggle at these times to explain how any God in whose teachings we are nurtured, promise to love, trust, worship and obey can preside over so much pain. Because he suffered? Somehow that argument just doesn’t work and I know that Jeff and Lyn need more than that.
Jeff deals with the loss as he does with most things that hurt; he builds with little blocks of anger, little scraps of guilt, of grief, bitterness and sorrow; he builds it all into monumental towers of remorse and every so often the tower becomes unstable, topples and collapses along with all hope and Jeff disappears with his mood into a cavernous pit of despair. Then he starts to build again. With Lyn it is very different. Her loss is and will forever remain, apparent. Lyn has worn her grief like a veil of despair since the day Julie was diagnosed. Since the day that she had to watch her beautiful daughter, her life, her Julie in so much pain; since the day they each vowed, even then perhaps recognising the futility of battle, to fight this thing, beat it, together; since she had to endure the tortuous routines of needles, radiation, chemotherapy, weight loss, steroidal weight gain, sickness, nausea, constant nausea and the ultimate humiliation of hair loss, Julies precious brunette locks lost, Jeff choking on his own tears barely able to conceal the agony that with each sickening stroke of the brush removed a little more hope. Imagine. Imagine that kind of pain. Imagine trying to rationalise that as part of some grand design of a God that cares. We deserve better than that and shouldn’t be made to go there. Having given their love, their lives, even the blood from their bodies and the marrow from their bones, no prayers were answered and everything that they lived for, their reason for being had gone. For Lyn there has since that time been no peace, no laughter, no happiness unstained by her loss that day and she, and Jeff, and I, know that there will never be until the day that she is reunited with her daughter, her Julie.

Painful as my life feels right now, I know that it pales into insignificance when set alongside the loss experienced by my dearest friends. I sometimes find it hard to tell them how hard it is all getting, how I long to see much more of my son, knowing that they have lost everything. Desperate at times in the knowledge that Tom is alive and yet allowed so little time with dad, I nevertheless recognise that I have so much to be grateful for and will try not to allow the fear of losing override the joy of having.
I love you Tom.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Sleep was good last night; it always is when Tom is home. I know that at sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 am he will be there squirming and wriggling before leaping still half asleep on top of me demanding ‘big cuddles’. ‘Big cuddles, big love, big snuggles daddy’; this really is special time, hidden away from the outside world and all its problems we truly connect and I know that this at least will never be lost. I hold him tight and he dozes again, twitching into that slumberland between dreams and reality, not for long, but enough time for me to linger a while in the joy of this moment, this now that I wish would last forever. Will he remember this? Will he ever recall the times that I have held him so tightly for fear that he might slip away from me? It sometimes disturbs me to think that he will not, and yet there is perhaps a place deep within us all that does hold on, does record and play back the extremes of happiness and pain that they form a platform for our emotional intelligence, instinctively informing us of those that have cared and loved and would protect us from all evil. Perhaps we do know. Perhaps Tom will know.
He wakes again, this time a little more startled and confused it seems as to how he got here? He engages me with a smile, a kiss and another cuddle and then, his eyes clearing of the mist, launches into a recital of the twenty most important words in his life. I have no idea how or why he does this nor how words enter or exit this literary hit parade but it seems to work for Tom who triumphantly flings his arms around my neck and squeezes out my appreciation. In truth I have heard many of them before but his enthusiasm is so infectious that I am often beguiled into thinking that he has only just discovered them. I turn on the television and we watch twenty minutes of ‘Fimbles’ and ‘Balamoray’ Tom straddled jockey – like across my chest cheerfully bouncing all the breath out of me each time he recognises any of the characters on screen. We sing, play and laugh together, as it was meant to be. I stroke the back of his hair; his golden hair trestled into careless curls and ruffled back slightly by his night of slumber. Golden…yes golden; some might say ‘strawberry blonde’, some might taunt ‘ginger’, still others may conject that my ‘golden’ puts me in denial of ginger, but it is truly golden. Golden hair on my golden boy.

After the familiar routines of ‘hello toes’ as his night suit is peeled off, the beautiful tactility with which his eczema cream is applied to his tiny body and the comical struggle that these two boys endure in choosing and assembling today’s clothing, we eventually make our way downstairs for breakfast. Toast, mini shreddies, nappy changed and bag packed we are soon flying out of the back door and bundling ourselves into ‘daddy’s car’ for a day out to Paignton Zoo. Within ten minutes Tom is fast asleep. I look at him in the rear view mirror and smile as I always smile when I see my little man so happy and contented. I think about what things might be in his dreams; planes, trains and automobiles, bright yellow diggers and tractors; bicycles that fly and strange talking animals. I struggle to recall what wonders of the mind were in my childhood dreams but hope that they were as Toms’ now safe and sound. I ponder still further and wish that my own troubled sleep might sometimes deliver me to that same magical place where reality need not be faced and all is right in the world.

We arrive at the elaborate Victorian arch of the zoo gates in good time and I am for a brief moment transported back to school trips in the Lake District, a little boy, confident, scruffy perhaps in his charcoal grey shorts and long socks slumped at the ankle, but so filled with fun and excitement. This was a time of innocence, some might say ignorance, but for him each day held another miracle. A time when we knew comparatively little of the animal kingdom; a time before the internet and television with its amazing camera technology removed the mystery and perhaps a little of the magic; a time when zoos were in the top league for family entertainment, now sadly relegated and passed over for the adrenaline thrills of sprawling theme parks. We park and the rain that has accompanied us all morning is still falling, but it doesn’t matter, nothing else matters when I am with Tom. I wake him and after a slightly crazed hug he makes an instinctive grab for his ‘cars’ which he has somehow managed to balance on his knees throughout. Into the buggy and through the turnstiles, wrapped like a precious piece of cargo encased behind a protective see through bubble, he still is not fully awake or entirely sure what this particular adventure is all about, but there is excitement in his eyes just the same. ‘Big bird…big bird!’ he cries wide eyed and transfixed by his first sight of flamingos, resplendent in their unique pinkness, long awkward necks uncomfortably supporting alien head and beak. Toms’ legs are kicking wildly, unable to contain his wonder and delight, laughing with pure joy as we pass through a succession of carefully recreated habitats each with their indigenous creatures. Dry and dusty deserts complete with rock pool oases where plants can gain a foothold and travellers can replenish their essential supplies of water; rainforests with their continuous canopy of hot and humid evergreen that hides so many secrets and open savannah grasslands with umbrella trees scattered as shelter from the midday sun.

After an hour or so I sense that we are both feeling a little tired and hungry. I notice a sign a little way off painted in an eye catching array of rainbow colours, ‘JUNGLE FUN – indoor play area’ and quickly decide that this might be a good place to take a break and perhaps eat some of the food that I have packed for Tom. Once inside I am slightly taken aback but pleasantly surprised to find a completely ramshackle but nevertheless user friendly area complete with what appears to be a voluntary run ‘Jam and Jerusalem’ café straight out of the WI garden parties of fifty years ago. At either end of this fascinating fundrome are two action packed and pleasure filled playgrounds with slides, rope ladders, poles to climb, brightly coloured padded shapes of every size, and pits filled with balls, thousands of those little plastic balls that children love to dive into, wade or swim through and throw here there and everywhere. Well for Tom, who has unsurprisingly gained a new burst of life this is all too much and he is already freeing himself Houdini like from the shackles of his buggy, anxious not to miss out on a single moment of this! He is off before I can stop him and why would I? He loves it here, barely able to contain his excitement, running this way and that with no one clear objective, and I love him loving it. He starts to climb, at last focused with a clear objective; a courageous assault on the North Face of a suitably padded slide that will deliver him victorious to the summit of his own little Everest….before launching himself down the other side and splashing dramatically into the sea of balls at the bottom. I wait, slightly anxious before he re-emerges head first with a triumphant smile, proud as I am proud at this great feat of daring and I am tied in, held high by his love, by this moment that is perhaps only achieved with your own child. It’s not that we are unable to delight in the achievements of other children, they each have their own moments of magic, but with Tom I feel it, experience each and every second of laughter, feel his joy, feel his pain and my heart rises and falls with his. Exhausted at last after several successful visits to the summit and back by a whole variety of pioneering routes, we settle down at a little wooden table and eat a carefully constructed lunch of emmental cheese, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, grapes ( halved so as not to choke little mouths), cherries and rice cakes. Feeling a little peckish myself I buy a sandwich from the café in which Tom shows more than a passing interest and we as always end up sharing. I sit back and watch him, smiling and happy, and I think to myself ‘how lucky I am to be right here, right now’.

After the thrills of Jungle Fun, the acrobatics within the Ape House, lions, tigers, elephants and giraffes are embraced slightly less enthusiastically than I had initially anticipated. But Tom has I notice fallen quiet and is beginning to show the signs that I read so instinctively now, of being tired. I want this day, this time, this moment to last, but my son comes first in everything and his eyes already closing, we make our way to the exit. As we approach the car he stirs slightly and in a daze joins me in a chorus of farewells;
‘Bye bye gorilla, bye bye lions, bye bye elephant’ and a surprise ‘bye bye cheetah’ from Tom.
He sleeps for most of the journey home an imagination now coloured with a wealth of new landscapes and strange creatures with which to fill it. I am momentarily startled by my mobile phone reverberating with the tone that indicates a text message is being received, a tone that makes my heart sink into my stomach.
Those three little words, ‘on my way’, in themselves so innocent and yet to me they are the messengers of doom that have come to take away my son and I must prepare for another goodbye. When it arrives I am as always hopelessly lost; it is as painful as it has ever been, as I believe it will always be, as painful as losing the most precious thing in your life must be. We hug. We squeeze. We press our faces tightly in to one another and my soul is bared to the world that would keep us apart. He whispers ‘bye bye daddy’ and I am caged with the animals that we have both so recently left behind. A tearful kiss blown through the car window, a wave and he is gone.

I love you Tom.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Although I joy in Tom’s growth and development and marvel sometimes at each new attempt at quite complicated words, ‘hewi-coppa’ (helicopter) or ‘golgeous’ (goldfish), it sometimes serves as a cruel reminder of just how much of his life I am missing. All those momentous firsts that are passing me by in the one hundred and forty four hours each week that we are kept apart, unable to be together.

He arrives in mums’ car today, fabulously excited at once again being outside ‘daddy’s house’; his house. I jump up and down around the car like some half crazed circus performer barely able to contain my joy at seeing him again. The happiness of this moment is I realize, so much a part of the sadness when we have to say goodbye. So many goodbyes now. This whole experience, this thing that is happening to my son and I makes me wish for no more goodbyes in my life, indeed I believe that I am developing a pathological fear of farewells, a phobia of cheerio’s. Chin up.
The weather is quite appalling and the planned afternoon at ‘Clarefest’, a charity concert in memory of a local breast cancer victim and now a permanent social event on the already busy village calendar, has been washed out and we are forced to initiate plan B. Sometimes fate intervenes for the better and in that meddling delivers gifts that might not have otherwise been discovered. We make an impromptu visit to Vine Cottage at the far end of the village where two of my dearest friends live. Jeff and Lyn are as always warm and welcoming with a developing love for Tom as genuine I believe as that which they have always had for me. They have adopted him in the same simple and uncomplicated way as they adopted me so very long ago; Jeff a father to me, more knowing, more seeing, believing, in my hopes, fears, successes and failures than my estranged real father will ever be; more knowing of Tom and just how much he means to me. We are invited to stay for Sunday Roast, free range chicken with all the trimmings and soon Tom is seated, raised proudly on a cushion, his very own dining ‘throne’ squeezed in tightly between myself and Lyn. It isn’t too long before the food starts to fly, Tom throwing chicken, potatoes, stuffing and peas into his mouth like this is the most wonderful meal he has ever had, might ever have! This is more than just eating, more than fulfilling that sometimes tedious and uneventful requirement for food. This is fun, real fun and we all participate and delight in the simple pleasure of watching my little boy enjoying his food. Tom is not unaware of all this attention and as if to repay us all beams his contentment with the biggest of smiles; what fun this all is being sat at the ‘big table’ in the ‘big chair’ with a whole Yorkshire pudding in each hand, one from Jeff’s plate and the other stolen unashamedly from mine as I rush to capture this moment on camera. By the end of the feast Tom has eaten everything that has been put in front of him and has taken on the glowing appearance of an overfed cherub.
All too soon it is time for us to leave. We say our goodbyes, Tom now confidently offering kisses to Lyn, Jeff having to settle for air kisses at a safe distance, his chin perhaps a little too stubbly for Tom’s liking.

Bath time is quiet, close and unusually subdued. I wash his back gently as we sit single file in deep water, kissing his neck softly as I surround him with the plastic armada of red, green, yellow and blue boats. ‘Toms Big Adventure’ the new story for tonight but it is soon clear to me that my beautiful sleepy boy isn’t going to last the distance. I find a suitable moment to break the tale and lift him tenderly into his cot beside my bed, telling him with an assurance that seems peculiarly strange to me now, that I will ‘see him in the morning’ and at least for tomorrow it is the truth. A final whimper, defiant I like to think, not to be denied precious time with his daddy, and he is asleep. As I sit alone downstairs there is an overwhelming sense of rightness about today; an ease breaks over me, a peace within that I have not felt for a long time now. My little baby boy, safe, secure, warm and so loved here with me in this house, his home. For twenty four hours at least I am happy. Whatever sadness tomorrow brings, I am so glad that you are in my life.

I love you Tom

Friday, October 27, 2006


Wonderful time together exploring our village in the Spring sunshine, Tom as always terribly excited about the now familiar sounds of ‘choo – choo’, ‘ayo – pane’ and ‘heyi – coppa’. He smiles softly at me, pointing out each one in turn apparently delighted in this new ability to recognise these marvels and communicate about them with others. He enthuses to all that pass us by about flowers, bicycles, cars, trucks, diggers, towers, boats and with pride, should they not have already realised, tells them all quite pointedly that I am his ‘daddy!’ We run around in the boat shelter together, laughing, chasing, cuddling and collapsing into a giggling heap of togetherness; being together, a father and his son doing all the normal things that so many might take for granted but are now, sadly, not so normal for either of us. Tom charges at each boat in turn eager to touch each and every one of them, to feel them and know exactly what they are. We stroll out along the harbour wall that stretches out freely some 100 meters into the tidal flow of the estuary. It is quite blustery and I take Tom into my arms. As we stand together at the far end, the sea crashing hard around us, he presses his slightly cold cheek hard against mine and we both look out across the water, our thoughts meeting somewhere out there, in love with this place and filled with love for one another. A swan passes by , blown along by the breeze, her cygnets all feathers and fur bobbing helplessly behind, there is it seems no ‘daddy’ swan to help them.

Tom appears to be a little tired when we get home so I put his tea in the Aga and we make a quick visit up the road to see Jeff and Lyn. They are in and as ever welcoming and pleased to see us. Tom is immediately transfixed by the ‘mouse’ (actually hamster) that they are looking after for there Grandchildren and this keeps him amused for the ten minutes or so that it takes me to down a cup of tea and catch up quickly with my friends lives. Time is pressing on now so we give all the kisses and make our goodbyes.

Back home and the wonderful smell of food hits us as I open the back door, Tom demanding immediately to be put in his chair as the sausages come sizzling out of the oven. My little man is hungry! Bib on, socks off and toes kissed to squeals of delight (a little meal time ritual) he is soon stuffing an already impossibly packed mouth with pork and apple sausages, new potatoes, beans, carrots and cherry tomatoes followed by a big bowl of seedless grapes each cut meticulously in half to avoid any risk of choking. Tom likes his food. Elaine insisting from the start that he has only the very best; no added sugar, salt or preservatives, just good simple food with the occasional surprise to keep it all interesting. It is surprise time now. I make a slow and very deliberate move towards the fridge, his wide eyes beaming at me in full appreciation of this most pantomimic of rituals. Slowly, very slowly I open the door and take a peak inside, Tom kicking and giggling wildly, the excitement now almost too much for him to bare;
‘pudding daddy, pudding please’
I pull out a small tub of fromage frais in those impossibly ‘French’ pots that for an adult constitute one or two spoons full but Tom adores them. He lets out another squeal of delight and follows each little mouth full with an oh so grateful ‘mmmmm’.

Too soon, always too soon, Elaine arrives to take Tom home. Home? I am gripped tightly, bound and gagged by the terrible pain of his leaving. It’s still so very raw and as we say goodbye his sobbing, his cries of ‘daddy daddy’ stun me into the realisation, the impossible truth that we are hurting the most precious thing in our lives. I sob as always uncontrollably when he is gone. I have it seems known nothing of pain before this time.

I love you Tom.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Sometimes in life you get what you deserve, sometimes fate deals harshly and you’re left wondering if there is any justice in the world.

Written on my kitchen blackboard just a few weeks after my son was taken from me;
and until now I have clung to that thought. But in recent weeks following the arrival of letters from Elaine’s’ solicitors, an increasing level of fear and anxiety has crept into my life, even my dreams, rendering sleep useless and ineffective. Too terrified even to answer the telephone, my stomach sickened by each flash of the answering machine, each tone of the mobile that threatens to deliver the message that I dread beyond all other. The one that tells me that I cannot see Tom; the one that says we cannot visit Grandma; the one that tells me that he is too unwell for today’s visit, cancelled until further notice; the one that says ‘we are moving away….a long way away.’
This isn’t life. No way to live. In constant fear that so little, so precious to me, might be snatched away at any moment. I sit. Cry. Try to understand. Why? But am unable to answer this most basic of questions and in resignation look deep into the eyes of the advancing hoards of desperation that tumble over themselves in their attempt to overwhelm me.

Rang Elaine tonight to say goodnight to Tom as I have done so many times before. I can hear his voice in the background, knowing and excited,
‘Is that daddy?’ but am told now that
‘I would rather you didn’t ring for that from now on…okay?’
and ashamed at this surrender I feel all hope drain away, the battle lost and the fight beaten out of me.

I don’t know what I’m being punished for only that I have been punished enough now. I love you Tom